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Prof. Dr. Malte Zimmermann

Institut für Linguistik
Universität Potsdam
Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 24-25
D-14476 Potsdam

Tel.: +49-(0)331-977-2319
Fax: +49-(0)331-977-2087

Email to: mazimmer_at_

About Me

    I am professor of semantics and grammar theory at the Linguistic Department of Potsdam University. I am interested in the language capacity of human beings in general, and in the relation of linguistic form and meaning, aka semantics, in particular. Among many other things, I am interested in quantification, tense, question semantics, discourse particles, and information structure. Me and the members of my Potsdam semantics group are also extremely interested in the semantics of under-researched languages of Africa and (South)East Asia, which involves semantic field research in Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria. Together with Edgar Onea (Graz), I currently direct an experimental research project on the (non-)exhaustive interpretation of embedded questions across European (English, German, Hungarian, Romanian) and Non-European (Hausa, Akan) languages. This project is funded by the DFG as part of the priority program SPP 1727 on experimental pragmatics. I am also a faculty member of the African Linguistics School (ALS), which takes place biannually in different West African countries.
    Apart from linguistics, I enjoy being and travelling with my family, including interesting outdoor adventures such as hiking, cycling, and canooing. Last but not least, I am fostering an undying love for the football team of FC St Pauli, who may not always be great - but they are trying!

Recent and not so recent talks

  • Inverse Scope in German revisited: No, 3/4, or Yes? An experimental study; Joint presentation with Gisbert Fanselow at the 1st Budapest-Lund-Potsdam syntax Workshop, Academy of Sciences, Budapest, June 2016; The talk presents the results of an experimental pilot study, which suggest that inverse scope interpretations may be available in German after all, even in all-given de-accented sentences. We considered sentences with plausible inverse construals (... tatsächlich HAT 'n umgestürzter Baum jede Zufahrt zur Innenstadt blockiert) in comparison to blocked inverse scope from within syntactic islands and filler and control material with wide and narrow scope for the universal quantifier.
  • Cross-linguistic variability (and uniformity) in focus-background partitioning; Academy Colloquium Language Variation in Action, KNAW, Trippenhuis, February 19, 2016
    This invited talk provides an overview of variability and uniformity in focus-background partitioning. Drawing mostly on empirical data gathered in the Potsdam-Berlin-based SFB632 "Information Structure", I discuss various ways in which languages can formally express focus-nackground partitioning. Next to well-known focusing strategies, special attention is paid to so-called 'backgrounding strategies', which can either co-occur with explicit focus marking or else occur in isolation in the absence of explicit focus marking. A background-only marking language is the West Chadic language Ngamo, as described in Mirs Grubic's (2015) PhD dissertation.
  • Salient situations: A semantic reanalysis of RELative marking in Hausa (Chadic); GWIS 3: Under one roof - Sharing a form with focus, Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, 25-26 September, 2015
    in this invited talk, I propose a semantic analysis of so-called "relative marking" in Hausa, which has been traditionally analyzed as a semantically vacuous, purely structural reflex of A-bar movement (Tuller 1986). On the alternative semantic account proposed, relative marking on the person-aspect complex has semantic import: REL-marking presupposes the contextual presence of a salient situation constraining the topic situation of the REL-marked clause.
  • WIRD SCHON STIMMEN! A unified analysis of schon as degree operator; Philips University Marburg, March 3, 2014
    The talk develops a unified analysis of the German particle 'schon' in its various guieses as an aspectualy particle (already) and disourse particle (rather...than). The analysis is an extension of an analysis of aspectual 'schon' in Krifka (2000), and treats 'schon' in both guises as a focus-sensitive operator that has the prejacent proposition entail all focus alternatives on a contextually-given (modal or temporal) scale
    The full manuscript can be found here
  • Conventional vs Free Association with Focus: Insights from West African and South East Asian Languages; University of Bar Ilan, Tel Aviv, February 3, 2014
    The talk sums up the findings of my SFB project on "Focus interpretation from a cross-linguistic perspective" on focus-sensitive elements in West African (Basa'a, Bura, Ga, Ngamo, Medumba) and Asian (Vietnamese, Ishkashimi) languages. Drawing on these findings, I propose a generalized version of Kay's (1990) analysis of scalar particles like 'even' that can account for the cross-linguistically robust observation that scalar particles can not only associate with foci, but ALSO with contrastive topics.
  • Contrastive Focus and Verb Doubling in Medumba (Grassfields Bantu; Universiteit van Amsterdam, September 20, 2012
    The talk presents joint work with Constantine Kouankem (Yaoundé). We show that focus in Medumba is morphologically marked, and that there is no evidence for syntactic focus licensing. Verb doubling under focus is derived from an incompatibility of the adnominal focus marker 'a' with [+verbal] finite verbs. Instead the a-marker must be realised on an infinitival copy of the verb in a non-verbal environement


  • 2011 Full Professor of Semantics and Theory of Grammar, Universität Potsdam
  • since 2009 Director of Collaborative Research Centre SFB 632 Information Structure
  • 2006 Junior professor of Semantics, Universität Potsdam
  • 2003-2006 Research assistant in project B2 Focus in the Chadic languages, SFB 632 Information Structure, Humboldt University Berlin
  • 2002-2003 Postdoc in graduate program "Sentence Types: Variation and Interpretation", University Frankfurt/Main

Research Grants



    As a full professor at the Linguistic Department of the Universität Potsdam, I regularly teach courses in the department's BSc- and MSc-programmes in linguistics. In addition, I am a faculty member of the African Linguistics School (ALS). I also taught courses at the ESSLLI summer schools of 2009 and 2011 and the GLOW summer school of 2006.

PhD Supervision - completed

  • 2018 Lena Karvovskaya (Universiteit Leiden, co-supervision with Johan Rooryck), "The typology and formal semantics of adnominal possession"
  • 2016 Agata Renans, "Exhaustivity. On exclusive particles, clefts, and progressive aspect in Ga (Kwa)"
  • 2015 Anne Mucha, "Temporal interpretation and cross-linguistic variation. A formal semantic analysis of temporal and aspectual reference in Hausa and Medumba"
  • 2015 Mira Grubic, "Focus and Alternative Sensitivity in Ngamo (West-Chadic)"
  • 2014 Vera Hohaus (Universität Tübingen; co-supervision with Sigrid Beck), "Context and Composition: Value Assignments to Free Functional Variables"

PhD Supervision - in progress

  • Carla Bombi Ferrer (UP): Exhaustiveness in embedded questions; expected completion date 2020
  • Joseph DeVeaugh-Geiss (UP), Limits of Variability in Presupposition Accomodation and Lexical Reinterpretation, expected 2019
  • Eva Shipova (UP), The interpretation of Russian éto-clefts: Experimental investigations
  • Claudius Klose (UP), The interpretation of TAM-marking in Aymara
  • Actual courses: Summer 2018

    • MM3: Question Semantics (MSc Ling)
    • Questions in Discourse (MSc Cognitive Systems, together with Tatjana Scheffler)
    • VGS-V: German dialects: Syntactic (micro-)variation (BSc Ling)
    • BM3: Introduction to Formal Semantics (BSc Ling)

    Previous Courses (selected)